Born out of Maserati’s desire in the early 1950s to compete and win commercial success for their range of touring autos, Maserati developed and introduced a racing machine with great performance and gracious styling: the A6GCS/53.
Maserati, founded in Bologna, Italy, in 1914, focused initially on racing engines, building its own first race car only in 1926. Alfieri, the eldest of the Maserati brothers, who died prematurely in 1932 due to long ailments caused during a terrible racing crash in 1927, had been the key founder and leader of the firm. If he had lived much longer perhaps the firm would have survived independently. But the internal disarray caused by his absence and due to growing market and economic difficulties, the Bolognese manufacturer was suffering from insufficient sales and therefore insufficient financing. The Maserati brothers were left with no choice in 1937 but to turn to the Orsi family – owners of an industrial concern with activities in steel, tooling machines, agricultural material, though not yet anything in the automotive sector – who were tempted to gain access to the motorcar industry, taking advantage of what they saw as an unique opportunity to acquire entry through a prestigious and technically advanced company that had achieved a certain amount of critical mass, especially through competition.
The contract required 10 years of service from the brothers, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore, and Ernesto but it gave them control over technical developments and the racing efforts of the manufacturer, as racing in Europe continued until the outbreak of war. The highlight of their efforts was their back-to-back victories at the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and 1940 with the Maserati 8CTF model, the only European auto maker to ever achieve this success.
Amongst the brothers’ innovations was the A6 inline SOHC engine for Formula 2 racing, whose development began before the war. In 1946 Maserati introduced the A6 model, based around the A6 engine: the A6 1500 grand tourer was Maserati’s first production road car. Development was started in 1941 but it was halted as priority shifted to wartime production, and was completed after the war when attention turned again towards building and selling automobiles – with racing victories as the best known publicity.
In 1947 the brothers however took leave from the firm that they had founded, relinquishing the usage of their own name forever. Maserati first put Alberto Massimino in charge of all automobile development. He had spent many years at FIAT before working under Vittorio Jano at Alfa Romeo, which also included time working under Enzo Ferrari before the war. Massimino arrived at Maserati in 1944, integrating the team that still included the Maserati brothers. In 1952 however Massimino left for Stanguellini, leaving a void.
The firm was able to attract Gioacchino Colombo, the engineer who had made a very solid reputation for himself with Alfa Romeo in the late 1930s and with Enzo Ferrari already at Alfa but also at Ferrari’s own firm during the 1940s. In late 1952 Maserati hired Colombo assigning him with the task to expand the development of the A6G project by improving the yield of the originally Maserati brothers designed inline 6.
His first attention went to developing a chassis frame for racing. He hired Celestino Fiandri, an engineer from Turin, to begin to develop a twin-seater barchetta focusing on the World Sportscar Championship 2 litre class by which Maserati could compete and attract buyers for street cars from their home market, Italy: the A6GCS/53 was born.
Colombo would also turn his attention to the 6 cylindre engine, totally revamping it in almost every aspect. First, an alloy block was perfected and employed for the new project, including a displacement of 1,985 cc, a short stroke 76.5mm X 72mm, double overhead camshafts with double Marelli ignition and triple Weber 40 DCO3 carburettors, producing 170 hp at a remarkable 7,300 rpm. Fiandri and Colombo developed a derivative of the monoplace frame, enlarged it to fit two seats. The frame was to receive an in-house design that was given to Fantuzzi to produce the racing barchetta, although several chassis went out for one-off designs at Frua, who produced a total of three spiders (no. 2110 sold at Pebble Beach in 2018 for $5,170,000), and at Vignale (no. 2049, Turin Motor Show 1953).
In the early 1950s Italian race car designers all had the idea of a racing barchetta in mind. Earliest Ferrari race cars, all of the OSCA racers from the 1950s – the cars that the Maserati brothers would go to produce – Stanguellini, Bandini, Nardi and the first Cisitalia – all of the other ‘etceterinis’ were open two seater ‘barchetta’ or ‘cigar’ type racers. But by some chance Maserati decided to enlist Pinin Farina for the production of four berlinetta versions of the racing A6GCS/53.
The Maserati Factory had to go to extreme lengths and a round-about way through the Maserati dealer in Rome, Guglielmo Dei – to whom 6 A6G rolling chassis were delivered – so that the order at Pinin Farina would not be seen as coming directly from the Maserati factory. Enzo Ferrari had just signed an exclusivity agreement with Pinin Farina so a normal path to employ their services was out of the question. By this miracle the most beautiful sports racing coupe ever produced was given life – in total four of them: chassis no. 2056, no. 2057, no. 2059 & no. 2060. Today, only two of the original four, 2056 & 2059, can claim to have retained their authentic, original Pinin Farina berlinetta coachwork from new, with 2059 being the best of the two.
The Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance awarded chassis no. 2059 its Gold Cup ‘Best of Show’ in 2016, setting up its victory as well as the Peninsula winner ‘Best of the Best’ 2016, beating out all of the other Best of Show winners from all of that year’s most prestigious shows from around the globe. Chassis number 2059, the 1954 Salon International de l’Automobile in Paris show car, is the most authentic of the two that retain their original coachwork, as no. 2056 was damaged in an accident at the 1954 Giro di Sicilia, after which it was left in the back of a garage for nearly 30 years, further damaging the car by neglect.
This masterpiece, the A6GCS/53 Pinin Farina Berlinetta, is the summum of elegance in the form of a closed race car of the early 1950s. A sort of synthesis of a front bonnet, long reaching front fenders with headlights pointing straight out (clearly projecting the line a sight), a voracious front grill, muscular rear wings – accentuated by the rise from behind the doors – extending straight backwards to drop and house the rear lights in clear view, a wracking long rear deck with a wrap-around first-in-class rear window and the ‘piece de resistance’ – the wrap-around panoramic front wind-screen that would become the design icon of all General Motors models from 1953 until 1960, giving the little Maserati racer a modernism that suggested performance, intelligence and technological advancement.
Pinin Farina most certainly drew from the iconic Cisitalia 202 design as a starting point. This other masterpiece, although much less agressive, was the first synthesis of the flat front bonnet and sweeping rear slop in an extremely low profiled two-seater coupe. The A6GCS/53 is also an extremely low car, looking much like a 2/3 reduction of the also Pinin Farina designed Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Tour de France, only 4 years earlier. For its time, it’s form was substantially innovative and completely unseen before. The dual side-pipe exhaust gives the car an undeniable aggressiveness – something raw and foreboding.
The A6GCS/53 was produced from 1953 until 1955. In total 52 units came off the assembly line. The vast majority received the bulbous, yet gracious Fantuzzi built, Fiandri & Malagoli designed, barchetta coachwork. Another three chassis were built as spiders by Frua and at least one chassis went to Vignale. The four Pinin Farina berlinetta round out the total. The last time that one the two all authentic berlinetta passed on the auction block, it was hammered down at $3,700,000 – and that was in 1996! An enormous price even today. As mentioned above, one of the three Frua Spiders sold last year at Pebble Beach for $5,170,000. Fantuzzi Spiders have sold for more than $2,500,000 yet some of the best examples have been estimated at yet higher prices. These were the epitome of the Italian open race car of the 1950s: exotic, fast, nimble and intoxicatingly high revving.
Daniel is a contributor for Forbes France writing texts in French language for their daily newsletter and trimestrial print editions. His articles cover the classic automobile market as well as luxury and lifestyle of classic automobile collectors.